Why Aren’t You Using What You Already Have?

Today’s topic is life clutter.

Specifically, those things that we have, but we are not utilizing.

Ironically, sometimes these items are crucial to our safety and/or well-being.

Yet, we let them sit idle hoping that we might use them someday.

What do you have that you’re not using?

The Unused Helmet

I was at a friend’s house the other day and I saw a red bicycle helmet sitting on a table.

It appeared new, and I asked him if it was.

He replied, “No, I got that when I bought my bike last year. I just never use it.”

I jokingly said, “Well, I hope you’re wearing it the day you need it.”

The conversation ended there, but it got me thinking about other important items that we have but we don’t use.

What do you have that you aren’t using?

  • Gym Membership – Having a gym membership may make your feel good, but using it is what gets you in shape. Why are you paying for it, if you aren’t using it? By the way, this is why gym’s love annual contracts.
  • BlueTooth Headsets – Why are you talking on your phone in your car while your headset is sitting back at the office?
  • Seatbelts/Helmets – Safety items can’t protect you if you don’t use them.
  • Alarm System – Why are you paying for that fancy home alarm system if you never set it? And “it’s too much trouble” isn’t going to cut it after something happens.
  • Employee Benefits – Do you have benefits (that you are paying for) that you aren’t using? Many people do not fully use the benefits that they are eligible for from their job.
  • Credits/Gift Cards – I bet you have at least one gift card sitting in a drawer. Or an unused credit that will expire at some point. (Airline ticket?)
  • Subscriptions – Magazine subscriptions, clubs, and more. If you don’t regularly utilize them, then unsubscribe.

Use It or Lose It

We all have items that we bought or acquired because we thought they would serve us well.

However, if you let them sit idle they can’t serve their purpose.

Additionally, they clutter up your life both physically and mentally. (That exercise equipment that is always in the way. Or the subscription that you have been meaning to cancel forever…)

Here are some tips to deal with your unused items:

  • Use Them – Some items are important, yet we still don’t use them. That alarm isn’t going to do much good if you don’t turn it on. Nor is that helmet if it is sitting at home. Make an effort to start new habits with the items that you should be using.
  • Get Rid of Clutter – You are probably saying, “But, I might need it someday.” Yet, that exercise equipment is covered in clothes at the moment. (As it has been for months.) Get rid of items that you are no longer using.
  • Stop Paying for Them – That gym membership you have used twice in 18 months? Cancel it. The magazine subscription that has piled up on the living room end-table? Unsubscribe. Save yourself the cost and the trouble.
  • Give Them to Someone That Will Use Them – If you aren’t going to use them, then give them to someone who will. Sell them on eBay. Or donate them to Goodwill.

What Do You Have That You Are Not Using?

In a society that is obsessed with the acquisition of more stuff, you probably don’t use many of the things you have.

Some of those items are important to your safety or well-being, yet you leave them idle.

Instead of worrying about what you don’t have, take a hard look at what you do have but aren’t using.

And by all means, turn on that alarm system when you leave the house.

Share in the Comments: What items or services do you have that you are not using?

The Truth About Piles and Your Productivity

I was in a client’s office recently as they were getting ready for a meeting.

They were looking for a document. (Actually, they were frantically looking for a piece of paper.)

I asked if could help.

As they moved piles around their desk, they replied, “No… I put it right here. I know where it is.”

Apparently not.

Five minutes later, they gave up looking for the document and headed off to a meeting (late!) without their reference materials.

Piles Are Not Organization

People tell me all the time that their messy desk is organized.

“I know where everything is!”

“It works this way.”

“This is my system.”

The truth is… people pile things up because they don’t have a way to organize their work.

“Piles are not organization.

They are a procrastinator’s excuse to avoid organizing.”

Piles don’t let you find your work.

They aren’t an efficient way to store your important things.

In fact, piles are slow.

Ditch the Piles

The next time you are looking for something that is buried in your piles, think twice about adding to the problem.

Here are just a few tips to help you avoid the piles:

  • Put It Away Now! - The next time you are “piling” things up, ask yourself how much longer it would take to put things away right. It may take a couple extra minutes now, but will save you even more time and effort in the future.
  • Have a System – Many people create piles because they do not have a system for organizing their stuff. Whether it is papers at work or supplies at home, invest in the filing or organization tools you need to put things in order. A filing cabinet or shelving system can make all the difference.
  • Clean Your Desk Regularly – One way to keep the piles in check is to have a regular clean-up session. I clean up my desk and surrounding workspace every Friday before I depart the office. Not only does it keep things in check, but it sets me up for a clean start to the next week.
  • Throw It Out – I am a big believer in disposing of things that you will not need again. “If in doubt, throw it out!” More likely than not, you will not need that paper again. Or that random item. Trash it, donate it, or give it to someone who can use it.
  • Go Paperless – Paper is always one of the main things than people pile. However, it is easier than ever to go paperless. Eliminate paper bills and opt for e-bills. Scan or take pictures of documents. File your e-documents via Evernote or Dropbox.

Piles Are Slow

Piles are not organization.

They are not part of an organizing solution.

Take a few minutes today to address the piles in your life.

Question: Are piles part of your organization system? What are your best tips to avoid piling things up?

Are Your Photos in Danger of Being Lost?

Part 2 of the “Backup Your Life Series.”

If you are like most people, your photos are digital these days.

They are probably stored on your computer or laptop somewhere.

What many of us overlook, or choose to forget, is that you are only one incident away from losing them.

A computer failure or theft could rob you of all of your valuable digital memories.

If your computer or photo library was suddenly gone, what would you lose?

Pictures of your kids? Of your travels? Or your memories?

Are you prepared if you lost all of them?

How I Lost All My Photos

Yesterday, I wrote about my experience losing my entire photo library. (Read about it here.)

I had over 65GB of pictures spread out over 8 years of digital memories.

Ironically, my loss wasn’t due to something catastrophic, like a computer hardware failure or my laptop being stolen.

It was caused my a simple software upgrade that corrupted my photo library.

In a blink of an eye, all of my photos were inaccessible and gone.

Would happen if your photos were suddenly gone?

“Ironically, our digital memories are easier to backup than physical ones.

Yet, most people do not take the time or minimal effort to protect their virtual valuables.”

Our world has rapidly converted from a physical one to a digital one, however we haven’t made the shift to new habits needed to safeguard those new digital assets.

Ironically, many of these valuables were not at risk when they were physical, tangible items.

It was not likely that someone would break into your home and steal your paper journal, picture albums, or documents from your file cabinets.

But, our virtual valuables are at risk from theft or the simple computer problem. A stolen laptop can contain years of personal valuables and documents.

Just some of the things that your virtual valuables are at risk from:

- Hard Drive Failure – Hopefully rare, but it happens.

- Software Problem – This is what happened to me.

- User Error – Have you (or your kids) ever erased something important?

- Theft – Computers and laptops make easy targets for would-be thieves.

What about you? Are you prepared?

How I Got My Memories Back

After I did the iPhoto upgrade, I quickly regretted the update to my library.

The software crashed and corrupted my photo library. I had a 65GB worthless file of my photos.

My memories and photos were gone.

“If only I had a time machine to go back and do it over.”

Luckily, I did. Have a time machine, that is.

I run Apple’s Time Capsule as my home router and backup drive. It uses Apple’s Time Machine software to backup your important files. In fact, mine does incremental updates every hour. (I just looked and it did its last update less than 45 minutes ago.)

With just a few clicks, I was able to bring back photo library from the day before the upgrade.

<Whew!>

It had been sometime since I had to utilize my backup system. It worked like a charm. Ironically, I had installed this Time Capsule less than 6 months prior.

“Are you backing up your photos?”

If you are not backing your pictures up on a regular basis, you are leaving them at risk.

Here are the Top Three Ways to Backup Your Photos:

  1. Time Machine/Time Capsule – Apple’s Time Capsule is the best example of “set it and forget it.” If you are running Macs in your home, there is no excuse not to invest in a Time Capsule. Apple’s Time Capsule combines the functionality of their Airport Extreme router and a network backup drive in one device. Get one today.
  2. Online Backup – There are many cloud-based backup services.From Carbonite to Crashplan to Mozy. In addition, to my Time Capsule, I also use Mozy’s online backup. Each of these services are quick to set up, cost a minimal monthly fee, and once running are self-sufficient.
  3. Manually – Once upon a time, the only way to backup your files was manually, using an external hard drive. This is a cost-effective method. You can get a huge external hard drive for $100-200. However, most people do not have the discipline to do their manual backup regularly enough. Unless you have a military-grade schedule, I do not recommend this method. An added note: Do not store your backup drive near your computer. A thief will grab your laptop and anything else electronic nearby…like your backup drive.

Don’t Risk Your Photos

In my situation, I was prepared for the loss of my photo library.

I had a local backup on my Time Capsule drive, and I also had an online backup via Mozy.

With a few clicks, I was able to restore my family’s photo library.

As I mentioned, I had installed it only a few months before the incident. It was worth every penny of reassurance and backup.

Otherwise, my story might not have had a happy ending.

Is your photo library ready in case of disaster?

Would your story have a happy ending?

Has your backup system saved your photos or other important files?

Is Your Life Backed Up?

Part 1 of the “Backup Your Life” series.

A friend of mine returned home to find out that his home computer was dead.

It would not boot, and the hard drive had failed. He ended up losing everything on that computer.

To say he was in a state-of-shock was an understatement.

He took inventory of what he had lost and it was not pretty: Pictures. Music. Documents. Data. Passwords.

What would you lose if your main computer was suddenly gone?

Is your life backed up?

We all want to think that it couldn’t happen to us.

Unfortunately, it happened to me last week… 

Is Your Life Backed Up?

As much as I talk about being prepared for the unexpected, I recently got a chance to test just how prepared I was.

I recently purchased the new iPhone 4S. As part of the upgrade, I was excited about some of the new cloud syncing features. For example, it automatically syncs your pictures from your phone to your computer.

I had to update the iPhoto software on my iMac to enable to the new Photo Stream feature.

The software download went smooth enough. I launched the new iPhoto application, excited to start magically syncing my photos.

This is where the trouble began.

The application began performing a “library update” to upgrade my existing photos for the new software.

Then it crashed. And crashed. And crashed.

In fact, the app would not run at all.

Even worse, it was in the middle of the library upgrade when it stopped working. The thought crossed my mind that my entire photo library might be corrupt.

I did a quick check and sure enough the 65GB photo library was unusable. I probably had 8 years of photos in that library.

You could say that my heart jumped for just a moment.

What Would You Lose?

What would you lose if your entire photo library was suddenly gone?

All of the existing pictures of your kids? Your entire life story?

Our lifestyles have shifted from a material world to a virtual one.

Yet, most of us have not made the shift to protecting our virtual possessions and valuables.

What would be gone if you lost everything on your main computer?

  • Pictures – Not many of us have printed photo albums anymore. For some, all of our pictures are contained on our hard drives. How many years of memories would you lose?
  • Music – CDs and other media used to be stacked up in our homes. Now, your music may only be stored in the files of your computer.
  • Documents - What important documents would you lose? Writings? Papers? Tax records? Journals? What irreplaceable documents would you miss?
  • Data – Many people underestimate the amount of personal data they would lose. Contacts? Addresses? Phone numbers? Calendars? Passwords?

How much of your life could be lost in a computer crash or simple theft?

Back Up Your Life

A few moments of preparation and a simple backup plan can prevent disaster.

People tend to downplay what would happen if they lost their computer and everything contained therein.

For the majority, it would mean years of lost memories, documents, and data.

Want to know what happened to my 65GB photo library?

Stop back tomorrow… for Part 2, of “Backup Your Life.”

Are your virtual valuables protected? Do you have a backup plan?

How to Make a Mind Map for Maximum Productivity

In yesterday’s post, I discussed the power and simplicity of mind maps to help you get organized.

(If you missed it, check it out here.)

Today, I want to give you a quick primer on how to make your own mind map.

If you haven’t used mind maps before, you’ll be mapping in no time. And if you are familiar with the technique, maybe you will pick up a new idea or can share one of your own.

Let’s get mapping!

How to Make Your Mind Map

As I mentioned in the previous post, you can make your map on paper or with a software application. I prefer making mind maps on a computer because it brings much more flexibility for editing. For this example, I am using MindMeister which is a great online mapping tool. (affiliate link)

Let’s jump right in and make our first map.

Here are the basic steps…

  1. Start with a Central Topic or Idea – Most mind maps are based around one central topic or idea. Maybe you are making a project list, trying to look the options for a decision, or planning a trip. Whatever your topic, place it in the center and your subtopic branches will flow out from there.
  2. Add a Subtopic or Two – Start your map by adding a branch or two. Add a subtopic and even topics below that, if appropriate. Subtopics can be questions, lists, whatever. Soon, your creative juices will be flowing and ideas will develop from each other.
  3. Let Your Ideas Flow – When I make mind maps, I let my ideas flow as quickly as I can document them. Get the thoughts out of your head. Don’t censor yourself, and add even the silliest of ideas to your map. When you edit the map you can organize the ideas.
  4. Move Things Around – One of the powerful features of mind mapping applications is the simplicity of dragging topics from branch to branch. As ideas quickly flow you will find that some subtopics are related or can be combined. Move topics to connect similar ideas or groupings. You will be surprised how easily you can quickly collate disparate ideas into an organized map.
  5. Trim the Tree – I make my mind maps quick and dirty until I am done. Then and only then will I spiff them up and make them fancy. I usually only do this if I am presenting or publishing them. They are you maps… you can decide how fancy or colorful to make them.

Here is a quick video example of me creating a simple mind map.

If you can’t see this video in your browser, click here to view it.

Tools To Use

I often get asked for productivity tool recommendations. For mind mapping, here are my favorites:

  • MindMeisterMindMeister is a great online mind mapping tool. You can create a free account and you can upgrade to a premium account with more storage. I like it because it is fast, online, and allows me to access my maps from any computer without worrying about syncing.  They also have an iPad app which I am testing out now.
  • iThoughts HD – If you are using an iPad, this is an outstanding mind mapping tool. I use it quite often. It leverages the iPad’s touch interface well. It also allows easy transfer and exporting of maps. It costs $9.99 in the iTunes App Store.
  • MindManager – MindManager is a top notch mind mapping application. I used it for many years. However, at $249 and $349 (Mac and Windows respectively) it is difficult to recommend.

As mind mapping has become more mainstream, many options have developed.  If you have a favorite, please share it in the comments below.

Your Map – Your Imagination

Mind mapping is a quick and powerful technique for organizing your thoughts.

Whether you are planning a vacation, listing your tasks, or managing a major project, mind mapping can help you keep things on track.

Some people may try to tell you the “rules” of making a mind map.

Don’t listen to them.

It’s your map. Your imagination is the limit.

Be creative and make your own mind map today.

How have you used mind mapping in your daily activities? Share your examples in the comments below?

5 Reasons Why I Stopped Buying Books

Can you remember when you bought your last CD?

I cannot.

However, it was many years ago.

Very soon, we will won’t be buying software in a packages either. I download most of my software directly from the online app store. Even for my Mac.

Now, I am making another leap.

I have decided that I am not buying any more hard copy books.

Here’s why…

Turn Off Those Subscriptions

Have you ever paid for a service that you didn’t use?

Or continued to pay for one long after you stopped using it?

We have all probably been guilty of this at some point.

The start of the new year is a great time to reel in those unused services.

Just like we scrubbed our bills, now is the time to cancel those unneeded subscriptions.